Stachys byzantina (Lamb´s Ear)

Stachys byzantina, commonly known as lamb’s ear, is a subshrub forming a dense clump that gradually spreads into a groundcover mat. 

Its unique feature is its large, thick leaves densely covered with long silky hairs giving them a soft furry appearance, hence the name lamb´s ears. The leaves are evergreen in milder climates.

During the summer, tall spikes covered with clusters of tiny purplish-pink flowers emerge from the foliage.

While originally native to Turkey, Caucasus, and Iran, this plant has been introduced to numerous other countries for its ornamental appeal in gardens.

Stachys byzantina plant (Lamb´s Ear)

Quick Overview

TYPE

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Stachys byzantina height and width (Lamb´s Ear)

BLOOM TIME

Stachys byzantina bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun

HARDINESS

hardiness (-15ºC / 5º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 3 months

ORIGIN

Lamb’s Ear Scientific name

  • Botanical name: Stachys byzantina (STAH-kees biz-an-TEE-nah)
  • Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Synonyms: Stachys lanata, Stachys olympica
  • Common name:  Lamb´s ear, donkey’s ear, Woolly betony, Woolly Hedge nettle
NameMeaning
Stachys Derives from Greek word stacys which means “ear of corn”, or “spike” to describe the inflorescence spike.
byzantinaThe plant´s association with the Byzantine Empire refering to its historical presence in this region (now Istanbul).

How to identify Stachys byzantina

Stachys byzantina plant (Lamb´s Ear)

Plant

Stachys byzantina is an subshrub (perennial with wood stems) that forms a basal rosette of broad grey woolly leaves entirely covered with long silver hairs that turn white in summer. The plant spreads through its underground stems (rhizomes) and eventually forms a ground cover.

During the summer, a tall spike of purplish-pink flowers emerges from the rosette.

It remains evergreen except in very cold climates, where the leaves may die back and regrow in spring.

The plant´s foliage has an average height of 15 cm (0.5 ft). The flower stem is 50 cm (1.6 ft) tall or more. The width is 50 to 60 cm (1.6 to 2ft).

Stachys byzantina stem (Lamb´s Ear)

Stem

The stems are fragrant, silver-grey, and densely covered with long hairs. They grow upright, often branching, with leaves arranged opposite each other. The leaves become progressively smaller as they ascend the stem.

The flower stems can grow about 50 cm (1.6 ft) or taller. They bear clusters of small purplish-pink flowers arranged in whorls along the stem, resembling pompoms.

Stachys byzantina leaf (Lamb´s Ear)

Leaf

The large, thick leaves are soft and densely covered with silky long hairs on both sides. The top side is silver grey, and the underside is lighter in colour, almost white.

The shape is oblong to elliptical with an acute tip. The margins are finely scalloped.

The size is 6 to 10 cm (2 to 4 inches) long and 2.5 to 4 cm  (1 to 1.5 inches) wide.

Stachys byzantina flower (Lamb´s Ear)

Flower

The inflorescence is a spike approximately 10 to 20 cm (4 to 8 inches) long, consisting of multiple clusters of small purplish-pink flowers arranged in whorls.

The flower is tubular and two-lipped. The upper lip has one lobe (shallowly 3-lobed), while the lower lip has three lobes, with the middle lobe significantly larger. These lobes fuse to form a tube surrounded by a calyx with triangular lobes and pointed tips.

The flowers are bisexual (monoecious, i.e. both male and female parts on one plant). They have four stamens(male) and one stigma(female).

Bloom time is in summer.

Lamb’s Ears are primarily valued for their foliage, so some cultivars are intentionally bred to be non-flowering.

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Stachys byzantina Habitat

Lamb´s Ear is native to the rocky hills of Turkey, the Caucasus region, and Iran.

It is well adapted to grow in rocky and dry regions. 

Stachys byzantina Usage

Ornamental

With its soft and silvery-velvet leaves that resemble a lamb’s ear, the plant is mainly grown for its foliage and is very popular as a groundcover. Its almost reflective silver-green foliage creates a striking contrast with other plants in the garden.

They serve as excellent companions for plants with woody, scraggly bases, as lamb’s ears can conceal their bare stems.

It can be used in the landscape in the following ways:

  1. Groundcover: Stachys byzantina makes an excellent groundcover, forming a dense mat of foliage that suppresses weeds and adds texture to the landscape.
  2. Border Plant: Use lamb’s ears along the borders or edges of garden beds to provide a soft, low-growing accent.
  3. Rock Gardens: The compact, low-growing nature of Stachys byzantina makes it well-suited for rock gardens, where it can cascade over rocks or edges.
  4. Container Planting: Plant lamb’s ears in containers or pots for a soft, textural element on patios, balconies, or decks..
  5. Path Edging: Use Stachys byzantina along pathways or walkways to soften edges and create a welcoming feel.
  6. Sensory Gardens: Due to its soft, fuzzy leaves that we can´t resist touching, lamb’s ears are a great addition to sensory gardens, particularly children’s gardens.
  7. Night gardens: This plant’s pale, silvery foliage will radiate a luminous glow under the moonlight.

Biodiversity

While the non-flowering cultivars do not contribute to the garden´s biodiversity, those that do have flowers can still play a role in attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies to the garden.

Is lamb’s ear invasive?

While Lamb´s ear will spread vigorously via its rhizomes, it can be easily managed by removing the new plants where they are not wanted. Flowering varieties of lamb’s ears may also spread through self-sowing, but this can also be managed by removing the flower stems.

Since it is quite easy to manage the unwanted propagation of this plant it isn´t considered invasive.

How to care for Stachys byzantina

Cold exposure

This plant tolerates cold weather down to -15ºC (5ºF) or less, but this is possible only if the soil is well drained. Cold soggy soil can be fatal to it. 

Nevertheless, especially while the plant is not yet established, you should add a thick layer of mulch around the plant’s base to protect the roots from cold temperatures. Using gravel mulch is preferable because organic mulch will stay humid and can cause the plant to rot.

In very cold places, the foliage will die back during the winter but will send up new growth when the temperatures rise and the soil warms up.

Sun exposure

Lamb’s Ear prefers full sun but can tolerate some shade briefly. However, because the woolly leaves easily trap moisture, excessive shade may prevent them from drying properly, leading to disease.

In extremely hot climates or areas with intense sunlight, it’s beneficial to shield plants from the harsh afternoon sun to avoid leaf damage. Offering partial shade during the hottest part of the day can shield the plant from excessive heat and strong sunlight.

Soil

Lamb´s ear prefers well-drained soils. Avoid planting it in wet areas, as it dislikes soggy soil, which may lead to root rot and fungal diseases.

If your area tends to become waterlogged, you may need to keep the entire root ball above ground level and fill in with a raised mound of sandy soil, sloping gradually away from the plant’s base.

 It can tolerate most types of soils, from mildly acidic to mildly alkaline. 

Avoid fertilizing the soil if you need the plant to handle extreme temperatures.

Watering

Lamb´s ear is drought tolerant and can go for some months without water once it is established (about 3 months of drought if the temperature is not too hot). 

Once established, it usually does not need watering. However, if there’s a long period without rain or very hot weather, you should water it, letting the soil completely dry out before watering again.

During its first year after planting, it’s essential to water the young plant regularly. Depending on the soil and the temperatures, you may need to water it once a week, every two weeks or every three weeks.

When you water the plant, give it plenty of water, allowing the soil to get a good soak. This way, the water can sink deep into the soil, helping the roots grow deeper. With deep roots, the plant can withstand longer dry periods since the lower soil layers stay moist for longer.

Avoid overhead watering because the woolly leaves can easily trap water, leading to fungal diseases.

To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the plant’s root area. The mulch should be gravel because organic mulch can lead to leaf rot.

Pruning

  • During any time of the year, cut off the diseased or yellow leaves to maintain the foliage’s vigorous growth and healthy appearance.
  • During the flowering period, consider trimming back all the flower stems to promote more foliage growth and to avoid self-seeding. Alternatively, thin out some of the stems to increase exposure to sunlight and improve air circulation. This can help prevent rot and promote overall plant health while allowing the flowers to contribute to biodiversity.

When to plant Stachys byzantina

The best season to plant is typically in the spring or autumn, but it will depend on your climate. You should avoid planting during periods of extreme temperatures.

If you have mild weather where you live, it’s best to plant in the autumn to give it time to develop the roots during the cooler months before the arrival of the hot summer. In case of very cold winters, it’s better to wait until spring when the risk of frost has passed and the soil is warmer. That way, the plant can have a better chance to grow well and be healthy.

How to propagate Stachys byzantina

Lamb´s Ear can be propagated by division or seeds.

Seeds: Sow seeds in late autumn.

  1. Sow the seeds in a well-draining medium. Lightly press the seeds into the soil.
  2. Maintain consistent moisture and provide indirect light. 
  3. Once the seedlings have grown a few sets of true leaves, transplant them into individual containers and grow in cold frame during the first winter.

Division: in spring or autumn

  1. Dig up the rootball
  2. Divide it into two or three parts using a sharp knife
  3. Replant them into individual spaces
  4. Water deeply 

It should be divided every three to four years to maintain the plant’s health and appearance. You will know it’s time to divide when you notice the plant dying out in the centre.

Self Propagation

The plant readily propagates through its underground stems, called rhizomes, spreading to form an extensive ground cover. Additionally, it can self-seed if the flower stems are left to produce seeds.

An excellent online source for plant propagation techniques can be found in RHS propagation article.

Sources

Sources of information used for this article

Article from Jardin Sec

Article from Kew

Article from Missouri Botanical Garden

Article from North Carolina Extension Gardener

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